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Written by Karen Kindt, Collection Manager, First Nations Cultures
Queensland Museum holds in its First Nations Collection, a significant Hermannsburg (Ntaria) Artwork Collection, comprising 27 watercolour paintings, donated by Mr. John Conroy, in 2016. The collection represents a distinct group of landscape paintings created by Central Australian First Nations artists, whose style and technique reflect the influence and tutelage of Albert Namatjira (1902-1959), the most significant Aboriginal artist of the 20th century.
Albert Namatjira was born and raised at Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission, 126kms, west-southwest of Alice Springs, Northern Territory. He was the first Aboriginal artist to be commercially exhibited nationally and internationally. He learned his western-influenced watercolour painting style and skill, under the tutelage of Australian artist, Rex Battarbee (b1983-d1973).
Namatjira and Battarbee were first acquainted in 1932 and 1934 when Battarbee undertook painting expeditions in South and Central Australia. Battarbee went on to exhibit his paintings, at Finke River and Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission, where Albert lived. It was Battarbee’s representation of the Arrernte landscape which piqued Albert’s interest, inspiring him to explore the world of watercolour painting.
In 1936, Battarbee returned to Arrernte country on another painting expedition, this time to paint the Macdonnell and James ranges. He employed Albert as a camel boy for the expedition. During the painting excursions, Battarbee taught Albert the art of watercolour painting and paved the way for three of Albert’s works to be exhibited in 1937, in the Royal South Australian Society of Arts. This was the beginning of what led to becoming a monumental, critically acclaimed career, culminating in a legacy of descendants, who paint in the same artistic manner, known as the ‘Hermannsburg School of Art’.
Descendant artists who followed in Albert’s footsteps, have successfully carried on the tradition, with representation in national private and permanent public collections and major auction houses.
The Queensland Museum Hermannsburg Watercolour Artwork Collection is historically significant, as it represents three generations of Hermannsburg (Ntaria) artists. Included in the collection are Albert Namatjira’s contemporaries, his siblings, students, and direct descendants. The collection documents the production of Hermannsburg-style art, over several decades. The success of the Hermannsburg School of Art, paved the way for many other Indigenous arts industries in Australia.
Artists represented in the museum collection include Albert Namatjira’s sons, first-generation artists, Oscar, Ewald, Keith, Maurice, and Albert. Other first-generation artists represented, with familial and kinship links to Albert include, Claude Pannaka, Wenten Rubuntja, Otto Pareroultja, Clem Abbott, Peter Taylor, and Gerhard Inkamala. Namatjira’s grandchildren, second-generation artists, Lenie, Reggie and Kevin are also included in the collection.
Recent exhibitions of artwork by Hermannsburg artists, have been held at 2022 Biennale of Sydney, Queensland Art Gallery and in 2014 at Parliament House, Canberra, where Lenie and Kevin Namatjira (Albert’s grandchildren) met HRH Queen Elizabeth, 60 years after she was first introduced to Albert Namatjira.
Prominent third and fourth generation Hermannsburg School of Artists currently painting at Iltjara Ntjarra Many Hands Art Centre, in Alice Springs, include Mervyn Rubuntja, Ivy Pareroultja, Kathleen France, Rheinhold Inkamala, Vanessa Inkamala, Kathy Inkamala, Selma Nunay Coulthard, Hubert Pareroultja, Hilary Wirri and Vincent Namatjira to name but a few.
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